Thursday, January 15, 2015

Membership or Partnership?

This past weekend, our congregation began a new sermon series examining Paul’s letter to the church of Philippi (Philippians).  It is an interesting letter.  It is unlike other letters of Paul in that it does not seek to correct bad behavior nor does it seek to warn against or correct false teaching.  Instead, it is a friendship letter which seems focused on the topic of “joy”.  

However, instead of restating the “Joy-Focused” message from this weekend’s worship (which you can listen to or watch by clicking here), I instead want to talk about another aspect of Paul’s introductory comments.  Specifically, I want to talk about “partnership”.
Here is what Paul writes in Philippians 1:3-11:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,[d] both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Did you see it?  In verses 3-4 Paul says, “I thank my God…with joy…because of your partnership in the gospel…”  

So what is “partnership”?  Is it different than “membership”?  That is how we traditionally try to differentiate, isn’t it?  We talk about who are members or pride ourselves and pound our chests about being a member.  In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a person who lives several states away and hasn’t worshiped with our faith community in at least a couple of years.  Her comment?  She thought I, as pastor, should have contacted her about a change we made because she was “a member” and deserved to be contacted before we changed anything.  That is too often how we think and talk about membership.  It is like signing up for a gym membership, never using the membership, and then complaining about the fact that the treadmill was moved and you are unhappy about it.  Silly, isn’t it?  But that is (far too often) how we think about membership.  But is “membership” the same as the partnership that Paul writes about?  I think not.

Membership is a dead concept.  Membership means having your name on a list somewhere.  That is about it.  Membership means you think you are entitled to something.  Some say.  Some power.  Some privilege.  Membership is not how the Church is to function.  Partnership is.

The word Paul uses here that the ESV translates as “partnership” is actually the Greek word koinōnɩ́a.  It is a powerful word that is pregnant with meaning.

Paul uses the word koinōnɩ́a a lot to describe the Church (large C).  Koinōnɩ́a is the mutual relationship in Christ that results from the call of God (1 Cor. 1:9), and is sustained by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1). But koinōnɩ́a is more than just “membership”.  It also corresponds to action.  It requires action.  For example, when it is used in speaking of relief for the Jerusalem poor (Rom. 15:26) or the money given to those who teach (Gal. 6:6).  In essence, this Greek word means that there is a sharing that occurs because of Jesus.  Be it financial, or the sharing of life, meals, and relationships, there is more than just belonging.  There is giving.  There is faith that expresses itself through actions. 

That is what Paul thanks the church in Philippi for.  He thanks them for their partnership.

So what does any of this mean…practically?

It means that we need to reconsider our ideas about Church.  We need to stop thinking of ourselves as “members”…and struggle through what it means to be a partner in the Gospel.  How does our whole life – our relationships, tasks, families, jobs, web browsing, email, meals, homes, etc. – proclaim Jesus?  How do we partner, sacrifice, share in extending the reign of God to those around us…offering them hope and joy in the face of the trials of life? 

Who moved the treadmill?  I don’t care.  The question is how my life will proclaim who Jesus is and what He has done for me and for those around me.  I think that is a better question…

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